Posts tagged ‘middle grade’

August 23, 2013

Be someone else. Then understand them.

We know books can take us places. We know they can introduce us to new people. But we often overlook the fact that they allow us to be  someone else. Not just to meet them, gaze into their life for a day. But actually to walk in their shoes, see through their eyes. Meet new people through the lens of the new person we suddenly find ourselves being. And the trend of first person narrators makes this even more possible.

I have a secret hatred for first person narrators because I often think you lose a lot without seeing the whole picture. However, when done right, they do lend a sense of immediacy and intimacy that you cannot get any other way.

piggyTitle: Piggy (originally “Big” in Dutch)
Author: Mireille Geus
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: Late elementary, Middle

Piggy is a new best friend (of sorts) to the “different” and “special” Dizzy. Or Lizzy, as the autistic girl is not really ever called. The book unfolds as Dizzy, used to being left out of pretty much everything, suddenly finds herself in a tight, and sometimes intense, friendship with the new girl in school. The friendship spirals out of control as the story is told both in the present (in which Dizzie finds herself in a LOT of trouble) and the past (in which Dizzie tells the story as the trouble unfolds).

Is it unfair to say that the book reminds me of a few others (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Out of my Mind) because of the special-needs status of the narrator? Perhaps. But like those two books, this story brings us one step closer to understanding someone that those more neurotypical readers might have a hard time understanding.

Let me be clear: this book didn’t do well (at least in the states–it was translated from Dutch). I bought it for $1 on one of those outdoor racks at the bookstore. But I liked this book. It was a fast and fun read with a good story and good characters. It’s short and nothing completely unexpected, but good nevertheless. It would be a great read for any kid just because it’s a good story, but I like that it will give those readers a closer understanding of someone different from them. If your child is struggling to understand a classmate or get along with a new potential friend, this would be all the more appropriate for them. Definitely read the book along with them and help them to notice how Dizzy reacts to the world around her and how that makes her different. How does it help her or hurt her at different points in the story? This book will help readers carry these images back to school where they can use them to forge a better understanding of their peers.

May 11, 2013

it’s not easy to get out of the Easy

outoftheeasyHere’s the first sentence.

My mother’s a prostitute.

Not how your average YA book begins. But keep reading. Here’s the rest of the paragraph:

Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well-spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.

Don’t you love that voice? That character? And don’t you want to read more? I did. Thus begins the story of Josie, a seventeen-year-old protagonist with one very strong desire: to leave behind everything she knows and get out of New Orleans. Or as the title says it, “Out of the Easy”.

I loved this book. It had everything I want: fast-moving plot, lots of action and drama, strong characters with strong desires, and great writing. Some of the great characters include Josie, the main character who cleans the brothel and works in a bookstore, her two guy friends (the bookish one and the cool one), her mother (a tragic and not very nice character), the colorful madam of the house who looks after Josie, and many, many others who come in and out and fill beautiful and dark roles.

Despite the setting, and the opening lines, this book is pretty PG-rated. We are talking some mild kisses and one almost-groping scene…lightyears away from Twilight, for example. I know there are some people who will say “what’s a prostitute doing in a YA book”? But those people probably haven’t read YA in about 50 years, and they likely don’t know many teens.

Most teens will relate to this character’s desire to get away from anything and everything they’ve always known. Of course, most teens do this in more of a figurative sense–with behavior (and a lot of “whatever”s). But the idea is the same, the pull to be in charge of their own life, to set out and make their mark. Another way to say it comes from David Copperfield, in a line oft-quoted in this book: “Whether I turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

Reading this book with your kid would be a great foray into those questions. You might not be able to directly ask your teen what they want to change in their lives (but if you are, awesome!). But you could start with a hypothetical. If they could get in that car with Josie and drive anywhere they wanted, where would they go? What would they want to do when they got there? And go back to that quote from David Copperfield. If they learn it as the quote from Out of the Easy, so be it. It’s something every teen should think about, and this book will make them do just that.

outoftheeasyTitle: Out of the Easy
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Age: 12 and up
Genre: Historical Fiction

April 10, 2013

Fast-paced mythological fun

Rick Riordan, author of the mega-smash hit series about Percy Jackson and the Olympians, almost makes my days in the Junior Classical League cool again. (In case you missed JCL while you were off doing something more normal like cheerleading, it was a competition where you could recite Latin poems, play ancient-Roman-based trivia games, and wear togas.) I said almost, okay?

I’m into the Kane Chronicles right now, a trilogy that follows a brother and sister team as they try to learn their family’s ancient Egyptian magic and save their father. The books are told in the first person from both Carter’s (the nerdier, grew-up-homeschooled-and-on-the-run-with-archaeologist-dad, darker-skinned brother) and Sadie’s (the hipper, cooler, sometimes-braver and fairer-skinned sister) point of view. You can meet these kids here. And you can learn more about their family’s magic here. And if you really need to, you can play some Egyptian games here.

As always, I’d encourage you to read these with your kids! This one is an easy assignment, because you are going to love it and before you know it, you’ll be done and off looking for some more Riordan ancient civilization fun.

After you do, you can talk about one of the fun ideas in this book, a secret name. Everyone has one and knowing someone else’s gives you complete control over them. Sadie controls the God Set because she knows his secret name (Evil Day). Tere’s a great moment in the book where she needs to guess her brother Carter’s secret name, something she can do because she knows him so well. Why not discuss your secret names around the family dinner table? Or in a classroom? Kids could come up with names for themselves or friends, tapping into their best qualities or highest ambitions. What better way to get close to your child than to know their mythologically secret name?

serpents-shadowTitle: Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid, The Throne of Fire, The Serpent’s Shadow
Author:
Rick Riordan
Genre:
Fantasy
Age Group:
Middle School kids

This book would be great for:

– reluctant boy readers (it’s big, but fast-paced and action-packed)
– anyone into mythology or ancient Egypt
– anyone studying mythology in school
– readers looking for mixed-race main characters (I’ve had many parents ask about this before: their race is not an issue in the book, just a fact about them, which is nice)
– anyone who likes a LOT of action (sometimes I find myself needing to catch my breath!)

So, what is your secret name? And if you have this conversation with your kids, let me know how it goes! Or don’t, if it’s a secret…

December 5, 2012

Snicket’s wrong questions make for fun reading

In case things were getting a little too serious around here, I’d like to introduce Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) to introduce the latest book I read, Who Could That Be At This Hour?, which tells the story of Snicket’s rather unusual childhood. And while I’ve been talking about a lot of serious books you can talk to your kids about, nothing gets a good relationship going like a shared laugh. So read this one with your kids now. Laugh together. Build up a foundation of shared reading. And then when the time comes, it will be all the easier to read and talk about the books I blogged about earlier. This would be great holiday reading! Something to share with the kids when school is out.

Anyway, he’s funny as you can tell, and so are his books. If you haven’t read him before, he has a cynical, slightly dark, but extremely fun voice. Definitely recommend this first installment in his “All the Wrong Questions” series. Great laid-back holiday reading!

whocouldthatbeatthishour

Title: Who Could That Be at This Hour?
Author: Lemony Snicket
Genre: Mystery, Humor, Lots of Fun
Age: Reading to Adult, chapter book/early middle grade level

What about you? Do you have favorite funny stories? Have you asked the wrong question at the wrong time? What are you going to read with your kids when school is out?

 

November 24, 2012

You ain’t slick and I ain’t stupid

To quote a movie I cannot stand, this book had me at “hello” and held onto me all the way to goodbye. After a wonderful, family-filled, post-Thanksgiving day yesterday, complete with family, a workout, a walk in the snow, and an after-dinner movie, we joked about crashing the Michigan frat parties that were likely just starting up as we trodded off to bed, the hour still in the single digits. But if I’m not staying up for parties anymore (yeah, right, ’cause I used to all the time…) there is one thing that will keep my light on, and Like Sisters on the Homefront, a 1996 Coretta Scott King Honor Book by Rita Williams-Garcia, meant I didn’t turn it off until about one o’clock this morning.

Sisters grabs you from the first page, when Gayle’s mother, hearing the bathroom door too many times in a row, immediately knows something is up. And immediately knows what that something is. Gayle’s voice rings and sings through perfect prose as the defiant 14-year-old is dragged to an abortion clinic by her mother and then sent away from her beloved New York City to live with relatives down south. Gayle already has one child, a baby who comes with her on the journey, and is indeed with her every moment of the day. Gayle struggles mightily against her God-fearing, Jesus-worshipping family, but even as you know what’s coming, or think you know, this book will have you turning the pages quickly.

Whether you fall for Gayle immediately (like “Great” does, the family matriarch who lies dying in her bed and shares life-changing stories of the past with her) or whether it takes you some time to warm up to her (like her cousin “Cookie” who can belt out the Lord’s music like nobody’s music, might depend on who you are and where you’ve been. But that you will fall in love for her I have no doubt. True, this book deals with adult themes–a very young girl is a mother, and on top of that, she’s experiencing the pains of abortion throughout much of the story. But this isn’t pain for pain’s sake. This book feels real. You meet these characters so intimately, you will ultimately feel like your mother sent you down South to live with them. Some mothers might shy away from a book like this, but to the extent that it’s appropriate for me to do so, I would discourage that. This book is filled with positive messages, the good kind that are honest, learned the hard way, and rooted in a messy but caring family.

Title: Like Sisters on the Homefront
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Genre: Fiction
Age: 7th grade and up

If you read this book with your daughter, there are a lot of good conversations you could have at the end. (Hint: one of them does NOT start out with the phrase “and that’s why you shouldn’t have sex until you are 35!”) 🙂 But Gayle has been using sex to get something she doesn’t have anywhere else. What is it? And why doesn’t she have it. Gayle talks about about the baby’s daddy and her latest boyfriend, but we don’t see them at all in the book. Why not? Ask your daughter about it. What is the difference between Gayle and Cookie when Cookie finally admits her own crush? And what happens that fateful night when Cookie rushes to the car? What is Cookie thinking and why does what happens next happen?

If you’re not ready for the romantic/sexual side of the conversation, this book has a lot more to offer about family and history. Why is everyone so keen to hear the “Telling” before Great passes away? What does it mean to know one’s own history and why does that matter? There’s a wonderful passage where Great tells Gayle she should never be angry at another African because they could be family, separated by slavery, time, and geography. Isn’t that something we could all learn?

The last line in this book is still whispering itself softly between my ears. The imagery of the scene is dancing in my mind, even after a good night’s sleep, even after a morning with my own family, who I appreciate through the lens of this newly-read book, resting on my brain, now a part of me.

As Gayle often says, she “ain’t stupid”. But that doesn’t mean she has nothing to learn.

And that’s why we read.

November 16, 2012

A crazy summer, but a phenomenal book

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the author of this book at a recent Highlights writing workshop. She was awesome. A faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Rita Williams-Garcia had a way of asking simple questions about your story that would expose profound issues. She was also phenomenal at the details…my story, for example, starts off with a girl stealing a diary from a woman. But as a reader, we didn’t see the diary until the girl had stolen it. Rita pointed out how the reader needs to see the diary, just as the girl does, zoom in on it, get closer to it, and then take it. Another writer had a car accident scene and we spent 30 minutes just taking apart who sees what when. The driver and the passenger both see the girl–but who should see her first? And who says something, if anything, and what do they say? And would the driver scream and then put a foot on the brakes or vice-versa?

That she is a master of her craft is obvious before you meet her of course, and this book (which is a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, and a winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award–seriously, if this book had more awards, you wouldn’t be able to see the cover) really has it all.

Title: One Crazy Summer
Author:
Rita Williams-Garcia
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: Upper Elementary and Middle School

It’s a story of three sisters off to visit a mother who left them while the youngest was still a nursing baby. The book covers so much: it’s a story of daughters searching to define themselves in the shadow of a woman who doesn’t appear to want them at all. It’s a story of girls from a rural town who find themselves in Oakland, CA. It’s a story of African-American kids who learn about a new kind of pride in their race as they are dropped into the middle of the 1960s black panther movement.

The voice of the main character is at once lovable and mesmerizing. She could tell me about canned soup and I’d listen. But she’s not: she’s telling me about a cross-country adventure, a dangerous political movement, police arrests and double-crossers, friendships and crushes, and a family that grows closer through it all.

I think any middle-grade girl, and many boys, although it’s more traditionally a “girl” book, considering the main character, would love this book simply for the characters and fast-paced, colorful story. That they would learn about an important point in American history, well, they probably wouldn’t even realize it until the book ended and you started asking them questions. Asking them what THEY would do if they were asked to participate in a movement like that? What kind of dangers would they face for something they believed in? You could also use the scene at the end, where the girls recite a poem, as an excuse to get your own daughter to pick out a poem that is meaningful to her. And then maybe she could recite it at the Thanksgiving table. 🙂

What do you think? How do you talk to your kids about questions of ethics and equality? Do you think you might use this book to introduce some of those ideas?

September 3, 2012

I write in a garbage dump…

…and other information for GUTGAA’s (Gearing Up To Get An Agent) meet and greet. Here are my answers in case you are hopping over from Deana Barnhart’s blog! And if you are not, here are a few things about my writing I’m sharing with some other unagented (pre-published) writers. 🙂
Where do you write?
Usually (like now) I write at my desk, a huge, heavy wooden ones that movers hate and I love. My mom bought it for me when I was a lot younger than I am now. I did all my high school homework at this desk while listening to the Mariners lose games in the bottom of the ninth. Or sometimes earlier than that. I had a phone on my desk that I sometimes used to talk to this cute boy at school, the one who took the kids to the pool today so that I could get some time to read my book before submitting it to be read for the Highlights Foundation workshop this fall. (Eek!)
Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
This is not pretty. A messy pile of books, an upturned trash can, a closet stuffed with empty three-ring binders and an ergonomic keyboard I should be using right now. In my defense, we moved into this house three weeks ago and mom’s study is last on the list of rooms to be conquered. I’m trying to convince my husband that a great present for the person who unpacked every other room in the house would be having a professional organizer come and unpack my study. So far, it isn’t working. If you have a good argument for me, please include in the comments below.
Favorite time to write?
The mornings, but it’s usually at naptime or bedtime.
Drink of choice while writing?
Iced tea. I wish it was something cooler, like Jack Daniels.
When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
Both. I think silence is better, but sometimes I just need the music to keep my brain from running away.
What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
The inspiration at first came from my grandfather, through his introducing me to the Civil War through the letters of my great-great-great grandfather. Those letters have been an important part of my life and they inspired me to write this book. But the overarching theme in the book came from reading Night by Elie Wiesel and Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi. Both have important things to say about remembering our past, but Primo Levi says something that struck me powerfully: we cannot FULLY remember. If we REALLY remembered, we could never go on. Certainly that is true for a Holocaust survival. Is it true for all of us? That there is some delicate balance between remembering and not remembering that allows us to go on but hopefully prevents us from repeating the atrocities of our history? On an abstract level, my book tries to deal with that question, not only for society as a whole, as the present gets obliterated when people forget the past, but also for the characters on a personal level, as they struggle with the usual middle school issues and learn to embrace themselves and their pasts in their own ways.
What’s your most valuable writing tip?
Delete. Delete. Delete.
November 4, 2011

autumn winifred oliver (and I) do things different

I worked at a National Park one summer in college. I made $50 a month. Seriously. But they gave me a house to live in, so that was something. I had the best commute to work. It took about 15 minutes by bike and I didn’t have to pedal once–I just pushed off and felt the wind caressing my torso as I flew around the corners, watching the trees. (Of course, the corresponding commute home, which took me over an hour, was less good, but definitely great exercise!)

Right after he proposed, with the shells the ring was in, and right before we had to scramble over the headlands because we waited too long and the tide was coming in

I’ve always had a soft spot for National Parks. Olympic, where I worked, where I learned to backpack on my days off by taking onesolo trip after another, is my favorite. Of course, it also might be my favorite because that’s where I got engaged. (It was a trick my city-dwelling husband used to make me think he would go backpacking with me after we got married.) 🙂

But now that I live in beautiful Tennessee, I’ve been enjoying a new park recently, the most-visited park in the country, the gorgeous Smoky Mountains. As a modern visitor, when I go to a park, I think about how grateful I am that we have all this quietness, all this beauty, just sitting there, waiting to be appreciated.

So when I saw this book and what it was about, I jumped at the chance to read it. And I’m glad I did.

Title: Autumn Winifred Oliver does things different
Author: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
Genre: Historical Fiction (but don’t let that scare you!!)
Age: Middle Grade

Review and Summary: Autumn Winifred Oliver is a wonderful girl with a strong voice and a strong sense of self. You meet her and get a great sense of her right away in chapter one, which begins: “I do things different. It helps to remind yourself of that when you’re attending your own funeral.” Each chapter begins with a piece like this “I do things different. It helps to remind yourself of that…” which gives you a sneak peek at what’s coming without giving anything away. If anything, these little snippets add suspense by making you wonder what they could possibly mean. Autumn lives in Cades Cove, a community that is about to become a national park. Autumn doesn’t know what to make it it all–the government people looking at her land, her grandfather snooping around, her father moving to the city to find new work, the possibility of losing her house and her community forever.

I love that the story feels universal–it’s about the way every girl this age often feels powerless over the bigger things in her life and how she comes to deal with them. The book gives you a sense of time and history without it feeling like a history lesson–it’s just a great book with wonderful detail. (I hate that I am apologizing for it being historical fiction, but I feel like some readers need an extra incentive to pick up an historical book. Trust me–I, too, used to be a reluctant reader of historical fiction, but after all the great ones I’ve read recently (this one, Moon Over Manifest, and Al Capone Shines My Shoes) I now swear to pick them up with excitement!

Follow-up with the kids:

There’s a lot you can do with this book. If you really want to make a history conversation out of it, there’s plenty of material there. There’s a short part in the book where Autumn realizes that what is happening to her already happened to the Native Americans who used to live on the land and were kicked off. It’s a good way to remind kids about the power of history, the lessons we can learn, the constant battles between those with power and those without, and the ways in which different people seem to treat each other.

But you can also just talk about Autumn. How does she deal with change? What things does she do that are positive? What is negative? Ask your child what she would have done. Chances are, the answers might tell you a little bit about what your child has done when they’ve felt like they were losing something. Or what they might do in the future.

I loved reading this book. I laughed out loud and thoroughly enjoyed getting to share the world of these characters, if only for a little bit.

September 26, 2011

a single good book in A SINGLE SHARD

My husband constantly makes fun of my reading habits. Examples: when one of his relatives picked us up at the airport and I spent the entire car ride home reading a book by flashlight. Well, flashlight app to be more accurate. Yes, I have a flashlight app and yes, it’s probably the most used of all my phone apps. It’s also great for reading at night in hotel rooms when the kids are trying to go to sleep.

Last night I told him I was exhausted and going to bed early and he came upstairs two hours later to find me with my nose in a book. I think I just have a special fondness for staying up late with a book. It conjures memories of Nancy Drew books in elementary school, staying up way past bedtime.

Recently, it conjured a different memory–that of staying up late reading to cram for a class in high school and college. I haven’t had to do that in while, but with my SCBWI writer’s conference coming up, I was mortified that I was about to meet Newbery Award-winning author Linda Sue Park without actually having read any of her books. So after the first day of the conference I came home and started A Single Shard around 9:00 so I’d be ready for my intensive with her the next day. My husband turned the lights out and put his head under the pillow.

9:00 PM for me today is probably the equivalent to what 2:00 AM was for my college self. It seemed a daringly late time to be starting a project; it felt like a secret endeavor, like I might get in trouble or had something important to do.  Maybe both. And so there I sat, cuddled under the quilt, my family asleep, sharing the nighttime hours with a story about a young boy. A simple story, told with simple words, on a simple night. It was heaven. I’m on a Linda Sue Park kick right now, so you’ll be hearing about more of her books later.

Title: A Single Shard
Author: Linda Sue Park
Genre:  Middle Grade
Age: 8 – 12, upper elementary and young middle grades

Summary and Review:

It won a Newbery so I don’t need to tell you it’s a great book. This is the story of a homeless boy and the man he lives with under the bridge. It is the story of the boy’s quest to learn pottery. It’s the story of how he learns about himself and how he learns to belong to others.

What stood out most to me about this book was how disarmingly simple it was. The prose is clean and spare, light on its feet. I found out at the conference that Linda Sue Park is also a poet and that comes through strongly in this book. If I told you what happened in the book–the boy wants to learn pottery and apprentices to a potter, you might start yawning. But even though the action is there, and the plot strong, it’s the characters that make this a story you want to read. It’s the boy’s simple yet ardent desire and his willingness to work hard—and always put others first—to fulfill it.

I read it about a week ago. I liked it then, but the more I think about it, the more the story seems to seep into some place deep inside me and I like it more and more every time I think about it. What really stayed with me is the boy, the main character, and how straightforward, honest, and hard-working he was. He was the kind of kid you’d like to raise, or teach, or meet, or be, depending on whether you are reading this as a parent, a teacher, a girl, or a boy.

August 16, 2011

Life, death, and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS

One of the hardest things about being a parent is watching a perfect, innocent baby grow up in a world that is neither perfect nor innocent. My heart wrenches as he asks the tough questions “does the fish break when the dinosaur eats it?” or “when will the bug be undead?” But learning about the cycle of life is something that everyone must do, and I’m lucky that so far my son has only had to learn it when it comes to the food he eats and the bug his friend stepped on.

(It’s especially hard because my son seems to have inherited my tendency to over-empathize with anything and everything. As I read this book on the airplane, I had tears streaming down my cheeks. And, as my husband will attest to, that’s not a spoiler, because I often cry when I’m reading or watching a movie, whether it’s happy, sad, or just is.) 🙂

But when you do have to tell the tough truth and talk about the tough issues, there is absolutely nothing better than a good story. Something that gives meaning to the world, something that tells you that you are not alone. Something that says you will be okay.

I am so glad that I found this book. Or did it find me? It seemed to jump off of the table at a small independent bookstore when I was on vacation. The message in the story–that we should celebrate life to its fullest is one that everybody should hear. It’s a story that anyone would love, whether they are seeking solace from a recent loss, or just picking up a book to enjoy.

Title: each little bird that sings
Author: Deborah Wiles
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: Middle Grade, 9 and up

Summary and Review:

I love, love, love this book. I love the wacky character names (Dismay the dog, Declaration the friend, Comfort the narrator and main character). I love the extended family of interesting characters all crammed into one house. I love the small town and the closeness that brings to the community. I love the unique setting–the funeral home where the main character lives with her family. And I love the younger sister, Merry, the toddler who asks of almost anyone she sees who stops to rest for a minute (or longer): “Dead?” The one word question is funny when she’s wrong and poignant when she’s right.

The main character is a girl, and I think this will appeal to mostly girl readers, although she is very tomboyish. One of the main plot hurdles the character encounters is also girl-related, when her best friend betrays her confidence and their friendship in a hurtful way at a time when she was needed the most.

The narrator goes through a lot in this book, and she learns a lot along the way. It’s the best of middle grade fiction–tackling a topic that an adult book would handle poorly. It’s a reminder of why I like this genre: any adult fiction in which this many characters die (I’m not giving away much here–they do run a funeral home) would be depressing, dark, and take itself WAY too seriously. But this book doesn’t need any pretense. It’s about life, from friends and family, picnics and tuner sandwiches, dogs and cousins. And so, so much more.

It’s a well-deserved National Book Award Finalist.

Follow-up with the kids (SPOILER ALERT – SPOILER ALERT)

If you are reading this just to read it because it’s such a great story, there’s a lot you can talk about. Why does Declaration turn on Comfort? If you told the story from Declaration’s perspective, what might she say? Why does Comfort hate her cousin so much and what helps her to change her mind?

You could also talk about Comfort’s relationship with Great Great Aunt Florentine and compare it to any of the relationships your own children have with older relatives.

From a writing perspective (and here’s where the spoiler comes), talk about why the dog has to die. What does that add to the story. Why is the dog’s death (and here I’m giving my own opinion) so much more powerful to Comfort–and even sadder perhaps–that the people who die? I might hypothesize that it’s because it’s unexpected–living in a funeral home, she’s used to dead people. It’s also untimely–the dog died in an accident, the people of old age. The author alludes to a comment by an editor in her acknowledgements that implies that there wasn’t a dog in the first draft. How do you think the first draft might have been different? Is your budding author working on a story that might benefit by adding a character, canine or not?

If you are reading this book specifically to help a youngster think about death, talk about where Comfort got to by the end of the story. She realizes that the only thing to do is to keep on living and enjoy life. Why is that so hard to do sometimes? And why does death help us realize that?

At the end, tears or no, this is a happy story. It just sometimes takes some sadness to get to the truth about happiness.